Many of the gifts bought this holiday season will end up becoming returns. But not all of those returns or exchanges will be easy. Stores have return policies to protect themselves from fraud and financial loss. The wise consumer knows what to expect.

The public is no longer living in the 30-day-money-back-guarantee world. Stores are tightening their belts on returns and that's important information to know when the holiday season has ended.

Shorter Deadlines: Many of the items in stores have finite "expiration" dates. Clothing styles are always evolving and technological advancements can make one product the latest and greatest one day and obsolete the next. That means stores have to be stringent on their return deadlines to ensure they're not restocking "old" merchandise no one else will buy.

Some stores will allow 2 to 3 weeks for returns. Retailers may count purchases made during the holiday season as if they took place on December 24. That means the clock starts ticking from Christmas onward for returns.

Restocking Fees: Stores may charge a restocking fee of anywhere from 10 to 20 percent to take back items that have been opened. This is particularly true with electronics or appliances.

Whenever possible, if the item received will not be used, do not open the packaging. Opened items that are truly inoperable should be returnable without a restocking fee.

Exchange or Store Credit: Keep those gift receipts in a safe place. Gone are the days when stores will take back just about anything. Today, many retailers want to see the receipt, even if the tags are in place. If a receipt is not available, the item may be exchanged for store credit, and that credit will usually reflect the current "sale" price of the item. Generally this price is lower than the purchaser paid a few weeks earlier. Having the receipt handy means the greatest dollar value can be given on the returned item.

Return Database: A consumer's return history could be tracked at particular stores. Retailers often have a computerized system that tracks returns made, frequency and whether a receipt was used. Individuals who are frequent returners may find more difficulty returning items, especially those without a receipt.

If the cashier asks to see a driver's license or other identification when items are taken back to the store, that's a likely sign a shopper's return history is being recorded.


Keeping gift receipts organized can take a little effort on the part of the shopper to ensure each gift recipient is in possession of their respective receipts.

Gift receipts are advantageous to people who are receiving presents. Should the item not fit or be a duplicate of something they already have, a gift receipt enables them to return the item effortlessly. It also clearly indicates where the gift was purchased so one is not driving around trying to find the store for a return. Plus, should the item have been recently reduced in price, a gift receipt will allow the full value of the gift to be received.

Returning an item without a receipt could result in lost value and the sale price being rescinded. Although having a gift receipt will not entitle one to a cash refund, it will equate to a store credit in the amount of the original price purchased.

Keeping gift receipts organized may take a little trial and error. One idea is to keep two envelopes and a pen handy when shopping. Write the names of the gift recipients on the master receipt or put their initials beside their purchased items. Place those receipts in one envelope where you'll keep your copies of the receipts. On the gift receipts, write the names for whom the gifts are intended. Place those receipts in the other envelope that will hold all gift receipts.

When it comes time to wrap gifts, refer to your gift receipt envelope and match up the receipts to the correct gift. Remember, the gift receipt will not display the price or sometimes even a product description. It will usually only have a bar code that will refer to a UPC, or product number. You may be able to match the receipt to the number on the product tag. But again, this is why writing the name of the person on the receipt at the time of purchase can make the process easier. Attach the receipt to the gift in some way and wrap.